Throughout the course of time, we have seen how the state of nature progressed into thriving civilizations. Our ancestors, quite literally, crawled so we could run. We owe this to the simple fact that humans are political animals. We use and convey political ideas in practically any social activity, whether we are aware of it or not.
During the time when survival was the only language known to man, instincts played a fundamental role in the expression of early political life. Gradually, our ancestors were able to fashion tools for survival—the likes of which continue to steer modern life. Today, we settle disputes by arriving at a compromise or consensus. From here, we can see that societal developments were only made possible by forging centuries of political thinking and action.
Our current language, as we know it, is now littered with politically-loaded terms i.e., freedom, equality, justice, human rights, and others. Other terms were also coined to describe and identify people’s views and the pattern of beliefs that would make an ideal social order. No sooner than we think, these terms became part of everyday vernacular, unfortunately, without most people having a clear grasp of their actual meanings.
Words such as conservative, liberal, fascist, or socialist are often thrown around with little to no regard for what they actually mean and often, pejoratively. Are people born equal? Should we be treated equally? Is equality even the goal? What are the makings of a fascist? What are the similarities and differences of liberals, conservatives, and socialists? We may never agree on an overarching answer for these questions, but by examining various ideological traditions, we can better understand that the world is much bigger than the lenses we use to view it.
The term ‘ideology’, which comes from the French word ‘idéologie’, refers to the “science of ideas.” It is used to define the origins of conscious ideas and delineate how theories can be transformed into practice, how instincts can enable survival. Ideological traditions offer various societal frameworks or ‘lenses’ that help magnify the political world.
It goes without saying that we have different conceptions of what we think is wrong with any given society, how we plan to resolve it, and what we consider is the best social, political, and economic condition. This is because we also have different, and often conflicting, interests and political backgrounds.
Amid the seemingly unending conflicts and online armchair debates, we find people with, if not identical, similar beliefs. We draw comfort from the fact that we are not alone in thinking we can make the world a better place. As political animals, we just love to be a part of something! We take pride not only in the beliefs we hold but also in the idea that if other people can agree with us, we can make the society of our dreams. Do note, the “society of our dreams” in question is still relative to individual perceptions—to our distinct ideologies.
While the term ideology is neutral in a semantic sense, it has been historically associated with negative connotations. Some will be called out as ‘liberals’ to denote pseudo-progressive politics, ‘conservatives’ for having reactionary ideas, or ‘communists’ for spearheading community pantries. More often than not, these instances are mere products of the callous culture of political correctness. This way, ideology is used as a political weapon to criticize opposing beliefs.
Interestingly, thinkers across ideological spectra dismiss the idea of subscribing to an ideology—claiming that their beliefs are their actual disposition. Liberals like Karl Popper saw ideology as an instrument of social control. Conservative thinkers view ideology as abstract systems of thought that distort political reality. Socialist thought sees ideology as tantamount to ruling class ideas and, hence, perpetuating exploitation. This aversion to the term reinforces the negative connotation against ideology and yet political animals cannot help but engage with it. Perhaps, we know deep-down that this is the only way we can truly bring about social change. So, forward we go.
Importance of Ideology to Modern Society
It is easy to create visions of a better society. At some point in our lives, we will inevitably form our own ideals—be it the preservation of traditional practices, promotion of equality, advancement of collective ownership of the means of production, and many others. It becomes challenging, however, to materialize such ideals in a world with limited resources and way too many needs.
Ideologies come into play by providing an account of the present social order. Ideologies are the lenses through which we view and experience reality, consciously and unconsciously. Through the lenses provided by our ideologies, we consider what works and what does not at present. This helps us confront the many issues and problems of the broader society. Having an ideology enables us to locate these problems and find solutions parallel to what that ideology stands for.
Moreover, political ideologies describe desired social orders and encapsulate visions of a good society. When we are aware of the goal at hand, it becomes easier to influence and mobilize people into working towards the same goal under the same fleet. Simply put, we instigate social change through ideology.
Take A Closer Look: Ideologies as Fantasy
We all love a good bedtime story, don’t we? It is through these stories that we find ourselves dabbling in our fantasies, in our desires. Despite their seeming impossibility, we like to imagine what life would be like if things worked a certain way—how good it would feel, how contented we would all be. However, these are just fantasies, we say, and are hence illusory. But is this really the case?
When we consider reality, much of our social processes are also actually sustained by some kind of fantasy. A fantasy which in itself spawns desire to project a sanitized image of reality. This is what philosopher Slavoj Zizek, in his book The Sublime Object of Ideology, called fantasy in the form of ideology. It is through ideological fantasy that we cleanse reality from its traumatic structures, that reality becomes a little bit more bearable. While some may argue that they see the world without filters, fantasy remains a necessity to sustain reality–just like our hot cup of chocolate in the morning is not really a cup of chocolate until we put sugar on it. There is no lifting from the veil of ideology.
Everyday, we witness the conditions but still act in ways that perpetuate the ideology. For example, while we know that a product is disgustingly overpriced, we still purchase it in the guise of ethical consumption (i.e., a fraction of the profit gained from said product will be donated to some starving children in a third world country). Ideological fantasy dictates that we are acting in our own interests by acting in the interests of the ruling class, as if there actually is a price for counter-consumerism.
The illusions we have created about our world makes it hard to break the chain of lies. As Zizek argued, “ideology blurs and confuses our perceptions—it is the ultimate illusion”, and yet we cannot help but grasp desperately unto it. This ideological fantasy does not only mask the real order of things but actually shapes it.
In an ideal world, ideologies should work like an empty container that is open to all possible meanings. Take Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, for example. The universal adaptability of this glorious melody renders it useful and resonant to political movements, even those that are diametrically opposed to one other. It was used in Nazi Germany to celebrate public events, in Soviet Union as a kind of communist song, in the extreme right of South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as the anthem of the country, in olympics as a winning hymn, and up until today in the European Union as the unofficial anthem.
This piece of music, with all its glory, enables us to achieve some sort of “perverse scene of fraternity” wherein leaders of all political spectra virtually appreciate it in unison. This sends a message that there may be something we can all agree on afterall.
Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus
Much like Zizek’s idea that ideological fantasy sustains real-life activities, Louis Althusser asserts that it is the “imaginary relationship” between the people and the world. It is therefore impossible to escape ideology. In fact, if we are to attempt to escape an ideology or belief system, it is only to adopt another one. Even rejection to ideology is in itself ideology.
This is possible because those in control of the mode of production (base) are also capable of controlling the cultural climate of any given society (superstructure). Althusser calls this the ideological state apparatus. This gives ideology a material form. As Althusser claims, “an ideology always exists in apparatus, and its practice, or practices”. To ensure the continued existence of the mode of production, ideology can be used as a state apparatus, as a machine that reinforces hegemonic powers.
Some examples of institutions used as ideological state apparatus are the church, school, mass media, political parties, arts, sports, and others. For one, education enables individuals to enter the workforce with the ideology needed for reproducing the existing system. Similarly, the Philippines assumes a relatively conservative position on social issues owing to our religious population. Everyday, whether we know it or not, we witness the mechanisms that these institutions use to promote or reject any given social order/ideological position.
As ideology permeates each and every aspect of the society, it has been defined as a tool for instilling ‘false consciousness.’ For instance, ideology suppresses people from recognizing the fact that the products or services we purchase are results of exploitation. Ideology, in this sense, propagates myth and delusions that prevent people from seeing their own struggles—it interpellates concrete individuals into subjects just as it defines what is true/false or good/bad. In this sense, ideology ceases to be a kind of Zizekian fantasy and becomes an ordinary individual’s nightmare.
Major Political Ideologies
The following are three of the most fundamental political ideologies—their major features, strengths, and weaknesses.
Liberalism emphasizes the commitment to the individual and to the construction of a society that caters to individual interests—this is what fundamentally differentiates liberalism from farther-leaning left ideologies. Its core values are individualism, rationalism, freedom, justice, and toleration. This means individuals can pursue “good” as they define it. The premise of this ideology rests primarily on aspirations of the rising middle class, the institutionalization of capitalism as the primary economic system, and the overtaking of government intervention in favor of market reform. As Andrew Heywood described in his book Politics, liberalism is the product of feudalism. This is true as history would prove that liberalism brought an end to feudalism.
The onset of classical liberal thought gave birth to capitalism which in turn improved the means of production compared to feudalism. But now that we have maximized the benefits of liberalism, it ceased to challenge the status quo—it has become the status quo. Precisely because of this, some portray liberalism as the ideology of the industrialized West.
Unlike the conservative thought, liberals believe that individuals are equally endowed with reason and should enjoy liberty to achieve as much private capital gain and maximization of profit as possible. Although individuals are regarded as equal, the liberalist view still gives primordial recognition of meritocracy depending on the level of talent and willingness to earn it in the competitive market.
In the competitive market, liberals recognize the equality of outcome while socialists advocate for equality of opportunity—both differ with regard to the proper leveling of the “playing field”. As an ideology, it also extols the merits of a self-regulating market while looking at governments as “necessary evil”—necessary for social order, evil for imposing limits on liberty. As Rizal Buendia wrote, “Liberal democracy works for an egalitarian society but does not intend to even off class differentiation nor eliminate classes.” In this way liberalism legitimizes unequal class power—and hence constitutes bourgeois ideology.
Liberalism’s weaknesses can also be traced back to its strengths. While individual freedom is an important product of centuries of wars and movements, liberalism’s commitment to extreme individualism breeds an antagonistic behavior towards the government. This antagonism pushes social welfare backwards by rejecting the safeguards from social evils provided by the state.
While it can also open opportunities for prosperity by upholding individuality, it also generates new forms of injustice by leaving those who are not able to swim to the current to the vagaries of the market. We have to understand that freedom does not only mean being afforded the right to be alone.
Conservatism, as a political ideology, is primarily based on preservation of customs and traditions within the society that have endured the passage of time. This rests on the belief that tradition is the accumulated wisdom of the past and should therefore be preserved from the present and future generations.
It is also consistent with the principle of organicism. Conservatives insist that social processes must be shaped by historical and practical circumstances. This means present goals must be achieved by actions proven to have worked in the past
Duty is another feature of conservatism. It highlights the importance of strong state enforcement of laws owing to the idea that humans are security-seeking. In order to guarantee a safe and orderly community, duty is imposed upon the state to ensure the welfare of the people. This is also why conservative thought follows the principle of hierarchy. Authority, as practiced through this ideology, always comes from above.
Finally, property ownership is also a vital component of conservatism.This is where conservatism lends its similarity to liberalism. As private ownership is promoted to measure an independence from the government, more people turn to individualist and often self-serving tendencies.
Socialism is a reaction against the emergence of industrialization and mass production. As Rizal Buendia argued, “It evolved out of the perceived failure of liberalism and its attendant economic system—capitalism to provide ‘true’ collective freedom.” Socialism, then, is marked by its resistance to capitalism and attempts to provide a more humane alternative: itself. Contrary to liberalism’s individualistic view and conception of competition, socialism highlights the importance of collective humanity and cooperation.
Moreover, socialism tries to challenge the liberalist and conservative promotion of private ownership of the means of production and exchange which has resulted in the monopolization of wealth to the ruling class. It values equality of opportunity as a necessary guarantee of social cohesion and stability.
The moral strength of socialism derives from its concern of what people can become and are capable of (if given the resources and opportunity)—that they can extend beyond market individualism.
Socialists also attempt to address the plight of the exploited working class by abolishing private property which liberals champion to a great extent for personal benefit. In this sense, socialism necessitates necessary state intervention and restriction of freedom to promote common good.
- Social Democracy
Social Democracy promotes a market-state balance and, in effect, a balance between the individual and the collective. For this, it prides itself in taking a neutral economic stance. As an ideology, it accepts capitalism as a wealth-generating mechanism while acknowledging the need to distribute wealth according to moral principles. This is exemplified through the notion of Keynesian social democracy which attempts to neutralize the impacts of capitalism through limited state regulation.
This is believed to improve employment, better regulate economic activities, and finance (that is, through progressive taxation) welfare programs. All of these, as the fundamental goals of social democracy, are meant to reduce the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.
Since social democracy also draws on compassion for the weak and vulnerable, it is sometimes confused with the socialist tradition. It also upholds the liberal commitment to equality, positive freedom, and social justice. At the same time, social democracy also supports the conservative idea of paternal responsibility/welfarism. By putting itself in a relatively centrist position, social democracy may be seen as an ideology that is primarily driven by electoral conviction.
The roots of fascism can be traced to the ultranationalist movement and globalization’s glorification of absolute unity and conformity. In creating a homogenous world, fascists uphold the unification of the population against a particular enemy.
Fascists take advantage of economic crises and political instability. For instance, war (aside from charisma) was a potent tool that fascists like Benito Mussolini used to create an illusion of unanimity and heighten fascist values. It is the highest expression of nationalism— when the nation is most united, the people are disciplined and possessed with a sense of purpose and national pride, and struggles are forgotten. During a time when emotions ran high, the government afforded a seal of nobility for those who dared to brave the battlefield. This reflects the fascist ideal of the ‘new man’ motivated by duty, honor, and self-sacrifice—a hero prepared to dedicate his life to the glory of his nation or race.
Appearing like a microcosm of globalist perspective, Italian fascist theory upheld the idea that any form of division and diversity is anathema, hence a staunch rejection to socialist ideas on class division. Because of its futuristic promises, a huge part of ultranationalism in the fascist Italy can be owed to artists who wished to depart from the pervading art and culture at the time. They were, and still are today, fundamental in influencing the perceptions of people.
What makes it particularly hard to topple this type of system is that the state employs various machineries in silencing dissent and imposing ideological conformity. Just like the global stage, different aspects of the economy were represented by corporations of workers and employers controlled by fascists who are allowed to do as they please to fuel the fascist plan—people are expandable and useful only insofar as they contribute to the materialization of national plans.
While environmentalism is often attributed to the emergence of various environmental movements in recent years, it dates back to the revolt against industrialization during the 19th century. It is primarily concerned about responding to the damages done to the natural world due to the increase in economic development and the processes that enable it.
With the advent of nuclear technology, many environmentalists deemed it necessary to organize a new social order to revert the declining quality of human existence. Earlier this year, over a thousand environmentalists and scientists staged worldwide climate change protests condemning the use of fossil fuels.
Its convergence with other ideologies may also be useful in better understanding the need to achieve more sustainable modes of living, regardless of our individual political stances. For example, Heywood (2009) explains that ecosocialism defines environmental destruction in terms of capitalism’s tendency to expand and greed for profit, eco-conservatism as the desire to preserve traditional values and established institutions, and ecofeminism which considers male power to be the cause of the ecological crisis.
Contrary to other ideologies, environmentalism rejects a human-centric perspective on resource distribution. It does not see the world as a resource that merley satisfies human needs. Man is part of nature–not above it.
Ideology in Praxis
The Philippine political arena is infested with an atmosphere of opportunism which emboldens personality politics and longstanding political clans. This explains why citizens associate politics and the presumed ideology parties practice with their founders or existing frontrunners. Often, the mere sight of a particular color is enough to provoke either a shared sense of camaraderie at best or ostracism at worst—there is no in between.
We also tend to automatically project the ideology of a political party unto a person who supports it. This is ofcourse flawed as we cannot label ourselves based on the understanding or experiences of another. However, this is actually often the case in reality (i.e., you support a progressive party because you identify as a progressive). We support the people we support not necessarily because we agree with all the things they say but because we identify with them more than the others, and this goes a long way.
We have to understand that establishing political identities is necessary to instigate political change. Collective action will not be possible if we spend our days denying that our ideals align with any established political party who may or may not be capable of actualizing such ideals. In all this, we are forced to tread on a singular string that is trust—trust that these parties are actually capable of integrating theory and practice, of transforming ideology into reality.
We have fallen trap from this gamble for way too many times. Prime example is when former President Duterte, especially during his campaign days, repeatedly insisted that he is a socialist. No one will forget when he publicly flaunted his ties with leftist rebel groups in Mindanao. Everyone cheered. Peace, at last, they say. Come 2018, he declared an all-out-war against the left and immediately abandoned the ship he used to sail the turbulent waters of the Philippine political arena. Once again, ideology was used as a bait to gain the sympathy and support of the working class. Though useful guides in identifying the ideal framework of any political system, ideology does not always meet praxis—and when this happens, ideology is in shambles and state welfare is compromised.
What we need, if we truly care for this country, is not just an ideology that aligns with our own beliefs but the whole population to work together in its realization. If we spend our days fighting over which social order is the best, we may never even get to try and actualize any one of them. The result? To this day, many Filipinos remain hungry, jobless, and homeless. Gas prices are skyrocketing, tons of food are wasted, job opportunities are gatekept, and healthcare is accessed only by those who can afford it. The market has taught us to be selfish even when there is enough for everyone.
Plot the following major Philippine political parties in the political compass. Consider the two axes: economic (left-right) and social (authoritarian-libertarian).
Draw or make a sketch of your dream society. Consider at least one of the Political Ideologies.
Divide the class into two (2) groups. Through a debate, each group shall justify whether politics can or cannot exist without ideology.
De Leon, Dwight. (2021). Rappler. Defying red-baiting, Patricia Non, Maginhawa community pantry carry on. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/patricia-non-maginhawa-community-pantry-defies-red-tagging-resumes-operations/
Felluga, Dino. (n.d.). CLA Purdue. Introduction to Louis Althusser. Retrieved from https://cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/marxism/modules/althusserideology.html?fbclid=IwAR1RwkcxSqLoEaxizGiJAUlPEnD-mYRrGZtPZHoUIGeIw9arUFkLu4QDsnc.
June 16, 2022. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology [Film]. P Guide Productions. Fiennes, P (Director). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBcFLmu_tlc&t=242s&ab_channel=ThePhilosopherKing.
Kilvert, Nick (2022). ABS News. Climate scientists are becoming climate activists as governments fail to heed warnings. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2022-09-09/climate-change-scientists-activists-demanding-action/101392282